“HOMEFRONT” Retrospect: (1.01) “S.N.A.F.U.”

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“HOMEFRONT” RETROSPECT: (1.01) “S.N.A.F.U.”

There are only a handful of television shows that I am very emotional about. There are only a handful that I consider to be among the best I have ever seen on the small screen. One of them happened to be the 1991-1993 ABC series, “HOMEFRONT”. Not only do I view it as one of the few television series that turned out to be consistently first-rate from beginning to end, it also has one of the best pilot episodes I have ever seen.

“HOMEFRONT” followed the lives and experiences of a handful of citizens in the fictional town in Ohio, right after the end of World War II. In fact, its pilot episode, (1.01) “S.N.A.F.U.” picks up not long after the war finally ended with Japan’s surrender. Army war veterans Hank Metcalf and Charles “Charlie” Hailey are in New York City, awaiting a train to take them home to River Run, Ohio. Hank is unaware that his longtime girlfriend, Sarah Brewer, has been dating his younger brother Jeff, while he was overseas. And Charlie has an unpleasant surprise for his longtime girlfriend and fiancée, Ginger Szabo – he has married a British woman named Caroline. Other surprises loomed for some of the citizens of River Run. Hank’s sister, Linda, had been dating his and Charlie’s friend, Mike Sloan, before war. Yet, unbeknownst to her, he has married an Italian woman named Gina, who is also a survivor of the Holocaust. Both Linda and her mother, Anne Metcalf, employees at Sloan Industries during the war, were unceremoniously fired with other women employees to make room for returning male veterans. And the Sloans’ chauffeur and housekeeper, Abe and Gloria Davis, receive a surprise in the return of their son Robert from the war. They are even further surprised by his embittered attitude toward the racism he had encountered in the Army and that a job as janitor awaits him at the Sloans’ factory.

I really do not know what to say about “S.N.A.F.U.”. I had never paid much attention to it, when I last saw “HOMEFRONT” on TVLAND, during the summer of 2000. After my recent viewing of the episode, I cannot understand how I could have ever ignored it in the first place. Not only is “S.N.A.F.U.” an outstanding episode, I now realize it is one of the best in the series. Is it the best? I have no idea. I would have to become reacquainted with the other forty-one episodes. I will say this for “S.N.A.F.U.” – the screenplay written by Lynn Marie Latham and Bernard Lechowick could easily compete with the 1946 movie, “THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES” in regard to a narrative about World War II U.S. servicemen returning home. Not surprising, Latham and Lechowick’s transcript won the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Long Form in Television.

In a way, I can see why this episode strongly reminded me of “THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES”. For an episode that mainly focused on the return of River Run’s U.S. servicemen, it seemed filled with a good deal of bitterness, despair and a surprising tragedy. Discrimination seemed prevalent in this episode. The Metcalf women – Anne and her daughter Linda – lost their wartime jobs at the Sloan Industries because owner Michael Sloan decided women were no longer needed as employees, due to the war’s end. On the other hand, the episode revealed Robert Davis’ bitterness over the racism he encountered in the U.S. Army. This bitterness carried over when he discovered that the promised job at Sloan Industries turned out to be a janitor. “S.N.A.F.U.”featured one interesting scene regarding both the racism and sexism faced by some of the characters. In one scene, while office manager Sam Schenkkan fires Linda, he hires Robert for the janitor job. The emotional response expressed by both Robert and Linda proved to be very interesting. Bigotry against foreigners and anti-Semitism reared its ugly head in a story line that featured the Sloans’ discovery that their only son, Michael Sloan Jr., had married an Italian-Jewish woman and Holocaust survivor named Gina. Most of the episode featured the couple trying to find a way to annul their son’s marriage before his return.

Romance certainly proved to be a problem in “S.N.A.F.U.”. Both Linda and her best friend, Ginger Szabo, expected to resume their romances with respective boyfriends upon their return from the war. Linda, who was in love with Mike Jr., learned about his marriage to Gina, upon the latter’s arrival to Ohio. And Ginger, who had been engaged to her longtime boyfriend Charlie Hailey, discovered he had married a young British woman named Caroline, while stationed overseas. And Caroline, as this episode later revealed, will prove to be a handful throughout the series’ run. Thwarted romance also struck another member of the Metcalf family. While Anne Metcalf’s oldest offspring, Hank, was fighting in Europe during the war; his younger brother Jeff got caught up in an unexpected romance with Hank’s girlfriend and fiancée, Sarah Brewer. Both Jeff and Sarah had decided she would break her engagement with Hank, so that both could declare their love for one another. However, Jeff found himself at the losing end of the lollipop when Sarah decided to remain with Hank. I have seen my share of movies about war veterans returning home. But I have never come across so much aborted romances and betrayal in one production in my life. And yet . . . Latham and Lechowick, along with the actors and actresses who portrayed these characters, made all of this romantic entanglements and betrayals seem emotionally true, instead of the usual second-rate melodrama.

If I must be honest, I believe “S.N.A.F.U.” is a prime example of what made “HOMEFRONT” one of the best television shows I have ever seen. Like the other 41 episodes that followed, “S.N.A.F.U.” explored the post-World War II world with a skillful mixture of drama, melodrama, romance, history, comedy and some action. To be honest, no action was featured in “S.N.A.F.U.”. But it did manifest in a few episodes during the series’ two-year run. I also have to comment on Latham and Lechowick’s exploration of racism, sexism, class and other issues in such a seamless, yet believable manner. I can only think of one or two other television shows that managed to achieve this . . . even to this day. And the more I realize this, I cannot help but wonder if most of today’s television producers are incapable of dealing with more than one or two particular issues. If this is true, then “HOMEFRONT”managed to achieve something rare that may never happen again.

The excellent writing featured in “S.N.A.F.U.” could have come to nothing without the first-rate cast for this show. I tried to think of a performance that seemed out of place or just plain ineffective. But I could not. Everyone gave it their all, including the likes of Kyle Chandler, Tammy Lauren, Dick Anthony Williams, David Newsome, Ken Jenkins, Harry O’Reilly and Hattie Winston. But there were a handful of performances that especially impressed me. I once read that when A.B.C. eventually cancelled “HOMEFRONT”after two seasons, Mimi Kennedy had broke into tears in the privacy of her dressing room. If this is true, I can understand why. I think that the role of Ruth Sloan, the haughty and blunt-speaking wife of industrialist Michael Sloan Sr. may have been the best in her career. I have always been amazed at how she conveyed both the unpleasant and sympathetic aspects of Ruth. I also enjoyed Sterling Macer’s performance as the embittered Robert Davis – especially in this episode. There is one scene in which the returning veteran is being welcomed home by his happy mother, grandmother and their friends, while he sits at the kitchen table trying . . . and failing to share their happiness. With very few words and his eyes, Macer skillfully conveyed Robert’s unhappy memories of the Army and his eventual inability to share his family’s happiness over his return.

Another performance that caught my attention came from Jessica Steen, who portrayed Linda Metcalf – middle child and only daughter of Anne Metcalf. Looking back on it, I believe Steen had a difficult job in this episode. Her emotions seemed to be all over the place, due to what she had experienced in “S.N.A.F.U.” – brother Hank’s return, anticipating Mike Sloan Jr.’s return, discovering Mike’s marriage to an Italian war refugee, dealing with best friend Ginger Szabo’s anger over Charlie Bailey and losing her job. And yet . . . she kept it all together with some first-rate acting skills. I was impressed by one last performance and it came from Sammi Davis (1987’s “HOPE AND GLORY”) as Charlie Bailey’s war bride, Caroline Bailey. Caroline has never been a popular character with the show’s fans. Many found her selfish and manipulative. I had also felt the same. But . . . I also recalled that Caroline was such an interesting character, thanks to Davis’ excellent performance. And at times, I also found her likable. I certainly found her very likable in “S.N.A.F.U.”. The scheming manipulator revealed her claws in her effort to regain the down payment Charlie had given to a landlord, who welshed on them and I cheered. I also understood her anger and confusion from Ginger’s hostile attitude toward her, especially since she obviously had no idea why Ginger was being rude.

What else can I say about “S.N.A.F.U.”? That it was a superb premiere for a first-rate series like “HOMEFRONT”? I have noticed that most television shows with excellent pilot episodes tend to go downhill by the end of the first season or the beginning of the second. Fortunately, this never happened with “HOMEFRONT”. Like “S.N.A.F.U.”, it remained an excellent piece of television entertainment throughout its two-year run. And it is a damn pity that the entire series has not been released on DVD.

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Favorite Films Set in the 1950s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies set in the decade of the 1950s:

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1950s

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1. L.A. Confidential (1997) – Curtis Hanson directed this outstanding adaptation of James Ellroy’s 1990 novel about three Los Angeles police detectives drawn into a case involving a diner massacre. Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pierce and Oscar winner Kim Basinger starred.

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2. “Grease” (1978) – John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John starred in this entertaining adaptation of the 1971 Broadway musical about a pair of teenage star-crossed lovers in the 1950s. Randal Kleiser directed.

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3. “The Godfather, Part II” (1974) – Francis Ford Coppola directed his Oscar winning sequel to the 1972 Oscar winning adaptation of Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel. Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall and Oscar winner Robert De Niro starred.

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4. “Quiz Show” (1994) – Robert Redford directed this intriguing adaptation of Richard Goodwin’s 1968 memoir, “Remembering America: A Voice From the Sixties”, about the game show scandals of the late 1950s. Ralph Fiennes, Rob Morrow and John Tuturro starred.

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5. “The Mirror Crack’d (1980) – Angela Landsbury starred as Miss Jane Marple in this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1962 novel. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie also starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and Edward Fox.

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6. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls” (2008) – Harrison Ford returned for the fourth time as Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones in this adventurous tale in which he is drawn into the search for artifacts known as the Crystal Skulls. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie was produced by him and George Lucas.

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7. “Champagne For One: A Nero Wolfe Mystery (2001)” – Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin starred as Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe in this television adaptation of Rex Stout’s 1958 novel. The two-part movie was part of A&E Channel’s “A NERO WOLFE MYSTERY” series.

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8. “Hollywoodland” (2006) – Adrien Brody, Diane Lane and Ben Affleck starred in this intriguing tale about a private detective’s investigation into the life and death of actor George Reeves. Allen Coulter directed.

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9. “My Week With Marilyn” (2011) – Oscar nominee Michelle Williams starred as Marilyn Monroe in this adaptation of Colin Clark’s two books about his brief relationship with the actress. Directed by Simon Curtis, the movie co-starred Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh and Eddie Redmayne as Clark.

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10. “Boycott” (2001) – Jeffrey Wright starred as Dr. Martin Luther King in this television adaptation of Stewart Burns’ book,“Daybreak of Freedom”, about the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. Directed by Clark Johnson, the movie co-starred Terrence Howard and C.C.H. Pounder.

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Honorable Mention: “Mulholland Falls” (1996) – Nick Nolte starred in this entertaining noir drama about a married Los Angeles Police detective investigating the murder of a high-priced prostitute, with whom he had an affair. The movie was directed by Lee Tamahori.

“HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III” (1994) – EPISODE THREE Commentary

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“HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III” (1994) – EPISODE THREE Commentary

Thanks to Episode Three, “HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III” ended on a solid note, thanks to John Jakes and Suzanne Clauser’s screenplay. A good number of “NORTH AND SOUTH” fans have complained that the 1994 miniseries could have stretched into one or two more episodes. I have to disagree with that assessment. The 1987 novel was not as long as 1982’s “North and South” or 1984’s “Love and War”.

Episode Three began Charles Main’s confrontation with Scar and his discovery that the Cheyenne warrior was in no condition for any kind of duel. After mending Scar, Charles began to drink heavily in order to escape the failure of both his quest and his efforts to save the Cheyenne village from Captain Harry Venable and his troopers. George Hazard and Madeline Main’s story blossomed into a romance that proved to be a lot more satisfying than what was depicted in Jakes’ 1987 novel. After becoming sober, Charles learned about Gus’ kidnapping from George and his friend, cavalry trooper Magic Magee. The trio set out into the Indian Territory to hunt for Bent and the kidnapped Gus. With George gone, Madeline was forced to contend with a double threat – a recently wealthy Ashton Main Fenway determined to take Mont Royal from her; and the local KKK and brother-in-law Cooper Main, determined to kill her and destroy her school for former slaves.

More so than the previous two episodes, Episode Three seemed to be pack with action. It featured Charles’ ill-fated duel with Scar, the hunt for the Hazard and Main familes’ nemesis, Elkhannah Bent and Charles’ kidnapped son Gus, and the Klan’s attack upon Mont Royal. And I thought that Larry Peerce handled these scenes rather well. Not only was I impressed by Peerce’s direction of the Klan’s attack, but also by Don E. FauntLeRoy’s night time photography of the swamp where George chased a captured Madeline, Cooper and Klansman Gettys LaMotte. This episode also featured some effective dramatic scenes – especially George and Madeline’s romance, Cooper’s hostile confrontation with his wife Judith, and Charles’ reconciliation with actress Willa Parker. But my favorite dramatic moment was Magic Magee’s attempt to distract Bent at a whiskey ranch, while Charles and George tried to rescue Gus. That particular scene seemed like an excellent mixture of drama, humor and tension.

The only bad performance that turned me off in this episode came from Terri Garber’s return to an exaggerated portrayal of a Southern belle. I found this ironic, considering that Lesley Anne Down managed to avoid this travesty, for once. However, Garber more than made up her acting faux pas in a scene in which she very convincingly portrayed Ashton’s devastation upon her discovery of Mont Royal’s wartime fate. James Read and Lesley-Anne Down were very effective in conveying George and Madeline’s romance. Both Philip Casnoff and Steve Harris gave first-rate performances in the battle of wits between Bent and Magee. I could say the same about Robert Wagner and Cathy Lee Crosby in the scene featuring Cooper and Judith’s quarrel. Kyle Chandler really shone in this episode, as he portrayed the gamut of Charles’ emotional experiences from the drunken failed man to a determined father and finally, a man at peace with the woman he loved and with himself. Everyone else – including Rya Kihlstedt, Tom Noonan, Sharon Washington, Cliff De Young, Gary Grubbs, Gregory Zaragoza, Jonathan Frakes, Deborah Rush and Julius Tennon did some pretty solid work.

“HEAVEN AND HELL” is not perfect. Its production values were not as top notch as the first two miniseries from the 1980s. The miniseries included literary characters like Cooper Main without explaining their lack of appearances in “BOOK I” and “BOOK II”. And it featured moments of hammy acting – especially by Lesley Anne Down, Terri Garber and Keith Szarabajka. On the other hand, this miniseries was more faithful to Jakes’ third novel than “BOOK II” was to the second novel. Not only did “HEAVEN AND HELL” managed to feature excellent performances and outstanding action sequences, it featured what I consider are the two best scenes in the entire trilogy. And I still believe it was a lot better than most of the saga’s fans viewed it.

“HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III” (1994) – EPISODE TWO Commentary

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“HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III” (1994) – EPISODE TWO Commentary

Despite the tragic ending of the last episode, Episode Two of “HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III” proved to be even darker. Bent continued his crime spree by assaulting an Illinois farm girl and kidnapping Charles’ son, Gus in St. Louis. Charles’ decision to become an Army scout in order to hunt down Scar led to his breakup with Willa Parker. Worse, he witnessed the massacre of a peaceful Cheyenne village by U.S. troopers led by Captain Venable. Madeline’s conflict with Cooper, Gettys LaMotte and the local Ku Klux Klan resulted in tragedy for one of the Mont Royal workers.

Overall, Episode Two was pretty first-rate. I only had a few quibbles. Stanley and Isobel Hazard (Jonathan Frakes and Deborah Rush) made a re-appearance in the saga without any explanation of how they avoided conviction for war profiteering. I guess anyone can assume that they were exonerated. Keith Szarabajka continued his over-the-top portrayal of Harry Venable. Even Gary Grubbs, usually a very dependable performer, indulged in some hammy acting during a scene that featured the KKK’s ambush of two Mont Royal workers. And aside from a few scenes of solid acting, Lesley Anne Down continued her exaggerated take on the Southern belle.

Fortunately, the good outweighed the bad. Ashton discovered that manipulating her second husband, Will Fenway, might proved to be difficult in a well-acted scene between Terri Garber and Tom Noonan. Genie Francis appeared like a breath of fresh air, when her character, Brett Main Hazard attended Constance’s funeral. This episode also featured an outstanding performance by Stan Shaw, in a scene about Isaac’s attendance of a political conference for freed slaves in Charleston. By the way, this particular conference actually happened and was hosted by activist Francis Cardoza, portrayed by Billy Dee Williams. Both Kyle Chandler and Rya Kihlstedt continued their strong screen chemistry, as they played out Charles and Willa’s stormy relationship. And James Read did an exceptional job in portraying George Hazard’s grief over the murdered Constance.

But the episode’s three showcases featured the KKK’s attack upon the two Mont Royal workers – Isaac and Titus, the U.S. Calvary’s massacre of a peaceful Cheyenne village and a kidnapping. Thanks to Peerce’s direction, I found all three scenes very chilling. Grubbs’ hammy acting was unable to spoil the scene featuring the KKK attack. And I could say the same about Szarabajka in the cavalry massacre scene. One last chilling moment featured Bent’s latest attack upon the Hazards and the Mains – namely his kidnapping of young Gus. The entire sequence was swiftly shot, but Peerce’s direction and Casnoff’s performance left chills down my spine.

By the end of Episode Two, I found myself wondering about the fandom’s hostile attitude toward this third miniseries. Granted, the production values of “HEAVEN AND HELL” did not exactly matched the same level as the first two miniseries. But the miniseries’ writing seemed to match and sometimes improve the quality of the writing found in the 1986 series. So far, so good.

“HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III” (1994) – EPISODE ONE Commentary

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“HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III” (1994) – EPISODE ONE Commentary.

If there is one chapter in John Jakes’ NORTH AND SOUTH saga that is reviled by the fans, it the television adaptation of the third one, set after the American Civil War. First of all, the theme of post-war Reconstruction has never been that popular with tales about the four-year war. More importantly, fans of Jakes’ saga seemed to have a low opinion of “HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III”, the 1994 adaptation of Jakes’ third North and South novel, published back in 1987. 

My opinion of the 1994 miniseries slightly differs from the opinions formed by the majority of the saga’s fans. The three-part miniseries failed to achieve the same level of production quality that its two predecessors had enjoyed. But unlike the second miniseries, 1986’s “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II”, this third miniseries was more faithful to Jakes’ original novel – as I had pointed out in a previous article. And to my surprise, I discovered that some aspects of the miniseries were an improvement from the novel.

Episode One of “BOOK THREE” struck me as a solid return to John Jakes’ saga. Not only did it re-introduce some of the old characters from the previous two miniseries, but also introduced new characters. Ironcially, one of the new characters turned out to be the oldest Main sibling – Cooper Main. As many fans know, his character was left out of the first two miniseries. Why? I do not know. But Cooper was introduced as a humorless man, embittered by the South’s defeat. And Robert Wagner gave one of the best performances in the miniseries in his portrayal of the deeply bitter Cooper. Another praiseworthy addition turned out to be Rya Kihlstedt, who portrayed Charles Main’s new love interest, actress Willa Parker. Not only did Kihlstedt did a great job in portraying the idealistic Willa, she had great chemistry with Kyle Chandler, who took over the role of Charles Main. Many fans had howled with outrage over Chandler assuming the role of Charles, following Lewis Smith’s portrayal in the previous miniseries. So did I. But after seeing Chandler do a superb job of conveying Charles’ post-war angst and desperation to find a living to support his son, my outrage quickly disappeared and I became a fan of the actor. James Read gave a solid performance as a grieving George Hazard, who seemed to be having difficulty in dealing with the death of his best friend, Orry Main, at the hands of their former enemy, Elkhannah Bent. Cliff De Young made a surprisingly effective villain as Gettys LaMotte, the manipulative and vindictive leader of the local Ku Klux Klan.

Unfortunately, there were performances that failed to impress me. I got the feeling that director Larry Peerce harbored an odd idea on how a 19th century upper-class Southern woman would behave. This was quite apparent in the performances of Lesley-Anne Down as Madeline Fabray Main and Terri Garber as Ashton Main Huntoon. The performances of both actresses struck me as unusually exaggerated and melodramatic – something which they had managed to avoid in “BOOK I” and “BOOK II”. Fortunately for Garber, she occasionally broke out of her caricature, when portraying Ashton’s more sardonic nature. Down only got worse, when her voice acquired a breathless tone in several scenes, which director Larry Peerce seemed to associate with Southern upper-class women. Fortunately, Down ignored the Southern belle cliche in one effective scene and gave a deliciously sardonic performance in which Madeline revealed the difficulties of maintaining a ravaged plantation in the post-war South to an outraged George. Being a fan of character actor Keith Szarabajka from his stint on “ANGEL” and other television and movie appearances, I was shocked by his hammy performance as a vengeful Kentucky-born Union officer named Captain Venable, whose family had been ravaged by Confederate troops. His performance was one of the most wince-inducing I have witnessed in years.

Episode One possessed some bloopers that left me scratching my head. Cooper’s sudden appearance in the miniseries was never explained by the screenwriters. Neither was the introduction of former slave Isaac, who was portrayed by Stan Shaw. And I am still curious about how Gettys LaMotte learned about Madeline’s African-American ancestry, let alone the other neighbors in the parish. I do not recall Ashton or Bent telling anyone.

Fortunately, Episode One was filled with excellent scenes and moments. One of the scenes that really seemed to stand out featured George and Madeline’s argument about the state of post-war Mont Royal. Charles’ hilarious introduction to a Cheyenne village involved marvelous acting by Chandler and Rip Torn, who portrayed mountain man Adolphus Jackson. One other scene that had me on the floor laughing featured Ashton, who became a prostitute in Santa Fe, kicking a smelly would-be customer out of her room. The episode featured very chilly moments. One of them featured Gettys LaMotte’s creepy rendition of the KKK theme song (I forgot that De Young was also a singer). Another was the murder of Adolphus Jackson and his nephew Jim by a Cheyenne warrior named Scar. But the best scene in the entire miniseries (and probably the entire trilogy) was Elkhannah Bent’s murder of Constance Hazard, George’s wife. I found it subtle, creepy and beautifully shot by Peerce. Also, Philip Casnoff and Wendy Kilbourne acted the hell out of that scene.

Despite some bloopers that either left me confused or wincing with discomfort – including some hammy performances by a few members of the cast – I can honestly say that “HEAVEN AND HELL: BOOK III” started off rather well. In fact, I believe it started a lot better than I had originally assumed it would.

“THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” (2013) Review

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“THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” (2013) Review

I can think of only three previous times in which one of director Martin Scorsese’s films has courted controversy. The first time the director courted real controversy was the release of his 1976 film, “TAXI DRIVER”. He also encountered controversy from two other movies – “THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST” (1988) and 1997’s “KUNDUN”. Scorsese and controversy have met once again . . . this time in the form of his latest release, “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET”

As the world now knows, “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” is a film adaptation of the memoirs of Jordan Belfort, a New York stockbroker who ran a firm that engaged in securities fraud and corruption on Wall Street in the 1990s. The movie begins when Belfort lands a job as a stockbroker at a Wall Street firm. His boss, Mark Hanna, advises him to adopt a lifestyle of sex and cocaine in order to succeed. Unfortunately for Belfort, the firm fails after the stock market crash ofBlack Monday within a few months. Now unemployed, Belfort is pushed by his wife Teresa to take a job with a Long Island boiler room which deals in penny stocks. Belfort’s aggressive pitching style soon earns him a small fortune and he also befriends Donnie Azoff, a salesman who lives in the same apartment building. The pair decides to start their own firm together and name it Stratton Oakmont. They recruit some of Belfort’s friends – among them, experienced marijuana dealers, colleagues from the boiler room and his parents as accountants. Despite the respectable name, the firm is basically a pump and dump scam. The movie depicts the decadent lifestyle enjoyed by Belfort and his employees, the break-up of his marriage to Teresa and his second marriage to lover Naomi Lapaglia. However, due to an exposé in Forbesmagazine, Stratton Oakmont attracts more enthusiastic employees and the attention of F.B.I. Agent Patrick Denham.

What can I say about “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET”? I thought it was one of the most outlandish and crazy movies I have seen in years. Out . . . landish! And I loved every moment of it. Well, most of it. Who would have thought that after forty years as a director and producer, Martin Scorsese could still astonish moviegoers? Or even piss them off? I had first heard about the negative reactions to “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET”, when I read about veteran actress Hope Holiday’s angry post on her Facebook page about the Motion Picture Academy’s screening of the film. But her reaction was not the first. I have come across a good number of negative reactions to “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” since learning about Holiday’s reaction. Curious over the hullabaloo, I found myself becoming very eager to see the film. And it did not fail.

It is possible that some might assume that I enjoyed the film simply for the characters’ excess – the sex and drug use that could have easily turn this film into one with a NC-17 rating. Actually, I did not feel one way or the other about the characters’ exercises in degeneracy. I simply accepted it, due to the fact that his excesses had been a part of his life during those years as head of Stratton Oakmont. And from what I have learned about the financial world of the super rich, such excesses were and still are very common. Some have claimed Scorsese had not only glorified Belfort’s lifestyle and crimes, but also allowed the character to get away with the latter with very little punishment – less than two years in a “Club Fed” prison, before becoming a motivational speaker. The U.S. government is responsible for Belfort’s scant punishment, not Martin Scorsese. And I cannot accept that the director glorified Belfort’s lifestyle. All I saw on the movie screen were a bunch of silly men behaving like a bunch of overindulged adolescents with too much money and too many “toys” (namely women, drugs and other expenses) on their hands. Thanks to Scorsese’s direction and Terence Winter’s screenplay, Belfort and his cronies merely struck me as pathetic and infantile.

More importantly, Scorsese’s movie frightened me. Belfort’s willingness to exploit the desires of ordinary men and women to satisfy his own greed struck me as off-putting. Scorsese emphasized this negative aspect of Belfort’s profession by conveying the latter’s lack of remorse toward his victims. I am not lacking in compassionate when I say that I did not need to see the effects of Belfort’s machinations toward his clients. The amoral attitudes of the stock broker and his employees seemed more than enough for me to get an idea on how much those clients suffered. I still have memories of that bizarre scene in which Belfort and the Stratton Oakmont staff treated shoe designer Steve Madden with great contempt, as Belfort expressed his intent to invest in Madden’s company . . . a scene that almost left me shaking my head in disbelief. But if there is one scene that scared me senseless was the one that featured the business luncheon between Belfort and his boss at L.F. Rothschild, Mark Hanna. In this scene, Hanna gave the newly hired Belfort tips on how to become a successful stockbroker. A good deal of those tips involved the use of drugs and sex. But the one tip that really comes to mind was Hanna’s instructions that Belfort prevent clients from cashing out their investments for the profit of the firm and the stockbroker. Hanna’s advice reminded me of how Las Vegas casinos try to keep even winners playing so the latter would eventually lose what they had gained – something I learned from Scorsese’s 1995 film, “CASINO”. That was some scary shit. One other scene proved to be just as scary . . . the last one that found post-prison Belfort hosting a sales technique seminar in Auckland, New Zealand. That last shot of the audience drinking in Belfort’s words they believe will make them rich struck me as a sure symbol of the greed in human nature that really never dies – even if humanity would rather pretend otherwise.

I certainly cannot complain about the movie’s production values. “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” proved to be a sharp and colorful looking film, thanks to the crew that contributed to the movie’s visual style. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto is the man mainly responsible for that sharp and colorful look that I had commented upon. But I also have to commend both Bob Shaw’s production designs and Chris Shriver’s art direction for taking movie audiences back to the excessive greed era of New York during the 1980s and 1990s. Legendary costume designer Sandy Powell contributed to this look by basing many of the men’s costumes on Giorgio Armani’s archives from the 1990s. I also enjoyed her costumes for the female cast members, especially those for actress Margot Robbie. Long-time Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker took a movie with a four-hour running time and managed to trim it into a movie one-minute short of three hours. She did an excellent job, although I believe the movie could have benefited with another twenty minutes or so trimmed from its running time. In fact, the extended running time is my one major complaint about the film – especially the sequence that featured Belfort’s downfall.

Other than the frank portrayal of Jordan Belfort’s career as a stockbroker and the financial world of the 1990s and Martin Scorsese’s excellent direction, the one other major asset of “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” was its talented cast. Once again, the man of the hour is Leonardo Di Caprio, who gives one of the best performances of his career as the charismatic and corrupt Jordan Belfort. When I say it is one of his performances, I damn well mean it. Not only did he give an excellent performance throughout the movie, he gave one of the funniest and probably the best acting moment during the entire year of 2013 – namely a sequence in which Belfort, high on Quaaludes, struggle to get into his car and drive home in order to prevent his partner Donnie Azoff from revealing too much during a telephone conversation bugged by the F.B.I. My God! It was hilarious.

Portraying Donnie Azoff (who is based on Danny Porush) was comedy actor Jonah Hill, who proved he could mix both comedy and drama with great ease and hold his own with the talented Di Caprio. His portrayal of Azoff’s forays into excess and egotistical behavior was a marvel to behold. Margot Robbie, who I remembered from the ABC series, “PAN AM”, portrayed Belfort’s second wife, Naomi Lapaglia (based on Nadine Caridi). She really did an excellent job in portraying the sexy, yet very tough Naomi – especially in one difficult scene in which her character had to deal with marital rape before she put an end to their marriage. The always impressive Kyle Chandler portrayed F.B.I. Special Agent Patrick Denham (based on Special Agent Gregory Coleman), the man responsible for Belfort’s arrest. Superficially, Chandler’s Denham seemed like a quiet, straight-laced type whose dogged investigation brings Belfort to his knees. But Winter’s screenplay and Chandler’s subtle performance allows a peek into the possibility that Denham, who had harbored ambitions to become a stock broker, envies the lifestyle that Belfort managed to achieve, despite the corruption that surrounds the latter.

The movie also featured outstanding performances from Jon Bernthal, who portrayed Belfort’s muscle-flexing Quaaludes dealer. I was amazed at how much Bernthal resembled a younger and better-looking Danny Trejo. Joanna Lumley gave a charming performance as Belfort’s British in-law, Aunt Emma. I especially enjoyed one scene in which Belfort asked her to engage in money laundering on his behalf and both ended up wondering about the other’s attraction. Jean Dujardin gave a sly and funny performance as Swiss banker, Jean-Jacques Saurel, whom Belfort used to hide his money from the Federal authorities. The movie also featured solid performances from Cristin Milioti (“The Mother” from “HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER”), Kenneth Choi (from “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER”), P.J. Byrne, Jon Farveau, Rob Reiner (who was especially funny as Belfort’s accountant father), Shea Whigham and Christine Ebersole. But the one supporting performance that really had me rolling with laughter came from Matthew McConaughey, who portrayed Belfort’s L.F. Rothschild boss, Mark Hanna. Despite the scary content of Hanna’s advice, I must admit that McConaughey really did a great job in making the most in what almost proved to be a cameo role.

“THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” proved to be appreciative enough for the Academy of Motion Arts and Pictures to give it several nominations, including Best Picture. And there seemed to be a good number of people who seemed to understand what this movie is really about. But I get the feeling that too many are determined to write off this film as nothing more than a glorification of Jordan Belfort’s excessive lifestyle and corruption. I cannot share this feeling. I believe that Martin Scorsese, Terence Winter and the first-rate cast led by Leonardo Di Caprio gave us a movie that many should view as a cautionary tale. I mean, honestly . . . if I ever consider investing my money in stocks, I will whip out a copy of this film to remind me there are plenty of people like Jordan Belfort in this world – even in reputable investment firms – who would not blink an eye to separate me from my money for their benefit. I once read an article that compared stock investments to casino gambling, to the detriment of the latter. After viewing “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET”, I cannot help but wonder if both means of “gambling” are a lot more similar than we would like to believe.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1970s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1920s: 

FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1970s

1 - American Gangster

1. American Gangster (2007) – Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe starred in this biopic about former Harlem drug kingpin, Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts, the Newark police detective who finally caught him. Ridley Scott directed this energetic tale.

2 - Munich

2. Munich (2005) – Steven Spielberg directed this tense drama about Israel’s retaliation against the men who committed the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Eric Bana, Daniel Craig and Ciarán Hinds starred.

3 - Rush

3. Rush (2013) – Ron Howard directed this account of the sports rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 Formula One auto racing season. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl starred.

4 - Casino

4. Casino (1995) – Martin Scorsese directed this crime drama about rise and downfall of a gambler and enforcer sent West to run a Mob-owned Las Vegas casino. Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone starred.

5 - Super 8

5. Super 8 (2011) – J.J. Abrams directed this science-fiction thriller about a group of young teens who stumble across a dangerous presence in their town, after witnessing a train accident, while shooting their own 8mm film. Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Kyle Chandler starred.

6 - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

6. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) – Gary Oldman starred as George Smiley in this recent adaptation of John le Carré’s 1974 novel about the hunt for a Soviet mole in MI-6. Tomas Alfredson directed.

7 - Apollo 13

7. Apollo 13(1995) – Ron Howard directed this dramatic account about the failed Apollo 13 mission in April 1970. Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon starred.

8 - Nixon

8. Nixon (1995) – Oliver Stone directed this biopic about President Richard M. Nixon. The movie starred Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen.

9 - Starsky and Hutch

9. Starsky and Hutch (2004) – Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson starred in this comedic movie adaptation of the 70s television series about two street cops hunting down a drug kingpin. Directed by Todd Phillips, the movie also starred Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman and Snoop Dogg.

10 - Frost-Nixon

10. Frost/Nixon (2008) – Ron Howard directed this adaptation of the stage play about David Frost’s interviews with former President Richard Nixon in 1977. Frank Langella and Michael Sheen starred.